Hubie Brown hammered the Thunder last night for poor transition defense against the Grizzlies early on after Oklahoma City gave up four easy buckets. And he was right. Transition defense has become a bit of an achilles for the otherwise stout Thunder defense. Let’s watch the four easy transition buckets that came early.
To recap: O.J. Mayo scored on a runout layup, Mike Conley Jr. went to the rim with little resistance, Mayo went to the rim with little resistance and then Conley got back into the paint and to the rim. If you wanted to simplify three of those, it’s just that the Thunder didn’t stop the ball. It’s the number one rule of transition defense. Stop the ball, make the player pass. A pass gives your teammates a chance to recover and hopefully set up. But let’s look at it one by one.
The first breakout was just that Kevin Durant didn’t get back on Mayo. Mayo runs right by KD, giving Conley an easy, open pass ahead to Mayo. Part of that happened because Thabo got knocked down, leading to some confusion on who was picking up who. Durant stumbled getting out the way of Thabo and then communication happened just a second too late. Mayo is Thabo’s man, but the message to KD to pick him up didn’t happen soon enough. Sometimes, like this, it’s just misfortune.
The second one is the worst to me. Conley goes to the rim and no one stops him. It happens for a simple reason: Nick Collison is guarding him. And look, the Grizzlies are even playing three on four. So why does this happen? Because of Russell Westbrook. If you watch again in the video, Westbrook does what he often does – he hangs back to swipe at a rebounder. That’s all fine and good, but Mike Conley had leaked out for an outlet. So what happens? Westbrook is standing back on Hasheem Thabeet while Nick Collison has to compensate and pick up Westbrook’s man in transition. That’s a simple thing to fix. Westbrook does a good job making teams take up a little shot clock and being disruptive when he hangs back, but a team can beat that very easily by throwing longer outlet passes. It’s what Memphis did right here and it caught OKC on its heels.
This play was because of some indecisiveness on the part of Westbrook and poor communication. Mayo grabs a rebound and runs out on his own. Westbrook starts to stop him, but that’s not his man. So he turns his head back to find Mike Conley and in that split second, Mayo runs to the rim. I would imagine Westbrook saw Durant ahead and assumed he’d stop the ball. Which is of course what KD should have done. Stop ball, forced Mayo to kick out to an open Rudy Gay and then just help and recover everywhere, trying to get set back up to defend.
The last play is just a quality drive by Conley, coupled with the fact Jeff Green didn’t stop the ball higher and let Conley get into the painted area (LOOK AT ME! I’M LIKE HUBIE!). Sometimes these type of things happen. It’s why teams like to run. When you get out on transition you get mismatches and you get chaos for a defense. You just have to have a smart playmaker that knows what to do with the ball, which Conley is.
All in all, transition defense is a bit of an issue, but in my mind, something easily fixed. I’m sure the Lakers might try and key on that a little, but they aren’t typically a team that runs a lot. It’s about communication, awareness and in some cases, plain hustle.